Water and cars don’t mix very well, and if your vehicle’s been flooded, putting it in a bag of rice to dry it out is not an option. It’s not going to be simple to fix, but we have a set of steps to help you get through it.

Contact Your Insurance Company

Get the ball rolling on your claim as soon as possible, especially if your area’s been hit with high water and there will be a lot of people reaching out to their insurance agents. Find out what your plan covers and what you need to do for repairs and claims. Follow any instructions the company gives you, such as having it towed to a shop. If you don’t, it could delay your claim.

The insurance company will have the damage appraised and decide if it can be repaired, or if your vehicle’s a write-off. This will depend on factors such as how much was submerged, and if the repairs will cost more or less than the vehicle’s value. Flood damage is usually covered under your comprehensive policy.

Disconnect the Battery

Water and electricity don’t mix, so cutting off the power can help prevent the possibility of damage to the vehicle’s electronics. Don’t hook it back up until you’re sure it’s safe.

Determine How Much Water Got In

Look for a waterline inside the vehicle. This could be a white or matte line, or the edge of mud or silt. Check under the dash, in the trunk, or open the glovebox for clues. Look for moisture in the instrument cluster or in the lights, which will indicate that they were submerged. Unfortunately, the higher the water, the less likely it is that your vehicle will be repairable.

Try to Dry It Out

As soon as possible, open the doors. If you have a fan, aim it at the interior and try to get as much air circulating as possible. It could take a few days to dry completely.

Press towels or microfibre cloths against the seats, door panels, and floor to sop up water. Use a wet/dry vacuum if you have one. You can also buy household moisture absorbing packs relatively cheaply at any home improvement store to help. Remove the floor mats and, if you can, pull back or remove the carpet, including in the trunk or cargo area. Even if it’s likely that the interior will be refurbished under an insurance claim, opening the car right away can help prevent mold and musty smells that may be difficult to remove.

Don’t Start the Engine Until You’re Positive It Didn’t Get Wet

Water in the engine can cause all sorts of problems, from diluting the oil or getting into the gasoline, to hydro-lock (hydrostatic lock), which can happen if water gets into the cylinders. Water doesn’t compress, and when the pistons move against it, it’s like they’re banging into a brick wall – with bent connecting rods the usual next step.

If you suspect the engine was submerged, get the vehicle towed to a shop, and have all the fluids changed and the engine checked before it’s started up again.

Check All the Systems

If you’re absolutely sure the engine is dry, it’s time to check the peripherals. Run the air conditioning and heater; the lights, including interior lighting; turn signals; the wipers; power seats, locks, and windows; check the stereo and listen to the speakers in each door; and be sure the key fob opens the vehicle.

Anything that’s electrical can be affected by water, especially saltwater. If your vehicle has extra features, make sure they all work: heated or cooled seats, heated steering wheel, electronic gear shifter, power or hands-free liftgate, infotainment joystick or trackpad, wireless phone charger, and illuminated door sills all need to be checked.

Avoid Water in the First Place

If there’s a flood warning, do what you can to keep your vehicle out of trouble. If your parking spot is in an underground garage, move to ground level – and if you can get into an elevated garage, even better.

Be very cautious when driving in heavy storms. If you must drive through a large puddle, do it slowly to avoid splashing water up into the engine bay. Be careful when approaching low spots such as underpasses, where water can be much deeper than you think it is. Don’t risk driving into deep or moving water – a strong current can wash away even big trucks and SUVs.

If you’re vacationing near the ocean, pay attention to warning signs and to the tides. A surprising number of vehicles get soaked when people park them on the sand at low tide, and don’t move them in time before the tide comes back in.

It Doesn’t Have to Be a Flood to Cause Problems

You can end up with water damage if you forget to close the windows or the sunroof before a rainstorm. Even if it seems minor, take precautions: as soon as possible, remove the floor mats, sop up as much water as you can, and dry it out to prevent mold and odours. Run electrical components to be sure the water hasn’t done any damage.

Write Off or Repair?

Modern vehicles depend on computers and electrical connections, and these definitely don’t like taking a bath. Even if things work initially after flooding, corrosion can set in and change all that. If your insurance company wants to write off your vehicle, you’re probably better off taking that route. If repairs are close to the value, you might even want to push the company to consider writing it off, rather than risk issues coming back to haunt you down the road. Any time your car takes a swim, there’s a lot you need to do.